When I was seven months pregnant with my second child, huge and perpetually hot pregnant in the DC August heat, I wobbled into a conference room for a client meeting, squeezed myself into a chair, and looked down to see not only three grinning sweat marks across my belly, but two Paw Patrol stickers, perfectly placed over my nipples on my dress. My son had put them there that morning, and I had forgotten.
Fortunately, the clients I was meeting with were both mothers, and we all had a laugh. But I saw this as a terrible sign. If I couldn’t remember to check my body for stickers before leaving the house as a mother of one, how could I possibly function as a human being as a mother of two?
I asked the women at the table, “Seriously, how do you get it all done?” But what I was really asking is, “How are you not going bonkers? How are you not, at this very moment, falling asleep and/or crying?”
They answered politely, but neither had a great answer. Now, two years later, I’m still a working mom with a husband who works full time. My commute into work is a minimum of 45 minutes and sometimes up to an hour and a half, depending on how bad the traffic is. My children attend different daycares and require two stops on the way to and from work. And I’ve discovered the secret to getting it all done.
I don’t. I absolutely do not get it all done. In fact, I make strategic decisions about things I simply do not do. Cutting out these 5 tasks from my life has been key.
Now I realize that abandoning all of these tasks is a privilege. I can afford help, I have a husband who believes in equal parenting, and my children are healthy. I know not all mothers can make these choices. But if you can remove even a couple of these from your plate, it can definitely help.
Over the past several years I spent a great deal of time trying to figure out the best way to get dinner on the table every night, even though I get home between 5 and 6 and my kids go to bed around 8, leaving very little time for actual dinner. My husband and I experimented with many different methods and services: bulk cooking on Sunday (it’s quite difficult to cook 5 meals with two children attached to your legs), meal delivery kits like Blue Apron (I was shocked that they still required me to cook), throwing a meal in the crock pot before I go to work (this recipe thinks I’ll be back from work in 8 hours to turn this knob — LOL), but none of them helped.
Finally, I decided to give up cooking altogether. I signed up for two different meal delivery services that deliver delicious, healthy dinners for the adults and the children twice a week. It’s been life changing, and, after factoring in the time saved and the amount of groceries I am no longer throwing away, it’s not expensive.
2. Running errands
I don’t go to Target or Walmart or the pharmacy. I have everything delivered — from my prescription medicines to diapers. I know some people enjoy running these types of errands, but I don’t.
I also no longer grocery shop. For snacks and kids lunches, I use grocery shop delivery services like Instacart. My husband enjoys going to Costco, so he goes there once a month to stock up on household basics. I haven’t stepped through the automatic sliding doors of a grocery store in nearly a year, and it’s liberating.
Yep, most days of the week my house is a disaster. My hardwoods are protected by an impermeable layer of Legos. The beds are not made. Unemptied suitcases from work travel last month sit, still zipped, on my bedroom floor. Mail piles up on the kitchen counter. I only do laundry at the absolute last possible minute (usually when I have to wear bathing suit bottoms to work), and clothes are rarely folded and put away — it’s usually a basket-to-body type situation.
It’s not just my house — the inside of my car looks like the floor of a General Mills factory. Guess who has four crumb-coated thumbs and doesn’t care? My two children.
Every other Sunday, my husband and I spend an hour or two frantically straightening, and on Monday a cleaning service sweeps through the house like a fairy godmother and makes things beautiful again. I’ve realized that keeping things clean is different than keeping things straight, and that I care much less about things being tidy.
4. Going to the gym
I do work out 3-4 times a week, but a few years ago I bit the bullet and invested in a (used) treadmill and gym equipment for my home. My home isn’t large, and my “workout area” is a cramped corner of the unfinished part of my basement, but it suffices. I used to spend an inordinate amount of time scouring YouTube for good workout videos, but now I use a workout app, for which I pay just $12 a month, to tell me exactly what to do every day. It’s more than worth the cost in saved time.
5. Worrying about looking nice on the weekends
During the week, I “dress up” for work: makeup, nice shoes, jewelry. But the weekends I stick exclusively to stretch pants, sports bras, and t-shirts. As a mom of a toddler, I need to be prepared to break into a sprint and/or sneak away for a nap at any given time. This outfit allows me that flexibility.
There are other things I’ve given up on too: sticking to a normal bedtime routine for my older soon (sometimes it’s easier to just let him stay up until he’s tired and then put himself to bed), fulfilling my dream of having an herb garden, ensuring that my daughter is wearing a matching outfit to daycare. Letting go of these little things makes all the difference, and it’s allowed my husband and me to actually enjoy the time we have at home together as a family.
Like I said, I realize that cutting these chores out is a privilege. A big one. I know not all mothers can make these choices. But if you’re in a similar situation as me — if you’re a parent who has lucky enough to foster a financially stable life and are working big, important jobs that you love — I urge you to do the same.
Your value as a parent is not measured by your exhaustion. Your children’s happiness is not a direct product of the cleanliness of your home. Do less (like, a lot less) and love more.